LIVE: The Bruce Katz Band @ Athens River Park, 8/21/15

Chris Vitarello
Chris Vitarello

Review by Jim Guldenstern
Photograph by Richard Brody

What do you get when you go to hear the Bruce Katz Band, and there is no Bruce Katz? You get an evening of great music. You get a picturesque summer night. You realize just how great Bruce Katz is.

We were welcomed to Athens’ River Park by the event’s promoter, Rick Surrano. He then informed us that Mr. Katz had been “summoned up to a greater power” which turned out to mean Butch Trucks was calling on him for a gig elsewhere. What would they do to fill the void?

Luckily they found an organist to play with them. Woodstock’s Jeremy Baum did yeoman’s work keeping up with the challenge. Boston-based Ralph Rosen was the kind of drummer I like. He was rock steady all night, and except for two great solos, you barely knew he was there. Chris Vitarello rounded out the trio. His guitar work was incredible all night long. And he had vocal chops as well. You could tell he was running the show.

The band shuffled the music between three sources: Katz’s latest offering, Homecoming; Baum’s recently released The Eel; and some homespun versions of covers. The Katz offerings were “No Brainer,” “The Sky’s the Limit,” “Time Flies” and the often recorded “Blues Before Sunrise.” Rick “Harp King” Surrano came up and played on this and other blues pieces. He did not disappoint, but here was a place where the timbres of the harp and the Hammond were not totally complementary. Katz might have switched to the piano for some of these numbers.

Baum’s contribution to the music contained “Funky Monkey,” James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now” and “Pacific Drive.” The “Drive” was a cool breeze as the moon slowly moved in back of the bandstand. The Stevie Wonder tune, “Isn’t She Lovely” was done as a jazz instrumental. “The Letter” used the Mad Dogs and Englishmen arrangement. Vitarello broke out Robben Ford & the Blue Line’s “Start It Up” – “You got a motor like a brand new car, so start it up for me.”

It was around that time someone called out for the boys to do some Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Vitarello was quick to remind us that Stevie Ray was not to be trifled with. “He was one of a kind.” Chris was not to be trifled with, either. His precision, up and down the fretboards of his guitars, was jaw-dropping. He knew just how long to repeat a lick and how to make sense as he changed it to another. He had more scales than a fish!

The night was winding down when Vitarello told us that he was always trying to get Katz to put an AC/DC tune in the playlist. He said, “Hey look! Bruce isn’t here,” and he counted off AC/DC’s “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’.” He even cajoled the audience to participate on the choruses.

The trio finished the night with Baum’s arrangement of “Purple Rain.” There was no rain on this beautiful night. There was no Bruce Katz, either, and we missed him. There was, however, a night of great music at a good venue. Athens is quietly becoming a dynamic place for good music. Last Friday night was no exception.

UPCOMING: The Athens Summer Concert Series in River Front concludes on Friday (August 28) with one summertime blues blast from Nippertown’s own Scotty Mac & the Gold Tops Rick Surrano & the 1-4-5 Blues Band. The music gets underway at 7pm, and admission is FREE.

  1. Richard Brody says

    Great review Mr. G. One more note- we were told that Scotty Mac also has another engagement so Rick Surrano’s band will be closing out the concert series.

  2. Greg says

    Thanks for the heads-up on the scheduling change, Richard. The update has been made…

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